Named after the legendary Cape Epic stage race, the Specialized Epic is designed to hunt down seconds on the XC race circuit. So what’s a cross country bike doing at ENDURO?

Specialized Epic Expert EVO | 120/100 mm (f/r) | 12.06 kg | € 5,599

Simple: designating the bike with the “EVO” suffix, Specialized have turned the Epic Expert from an XC race bike into a trail rocket. As befits a bike of this category, the € 5,599 Epic Expert EVO features a lightweight carbon fibre frame (the same as the non-EVO), 29″ wheels and 100 mm of travel at the rear. So far, so XC. But the EVO also has a dropper post, a 120 mm travel fork and sturdy tires, bringing it to a non-XC weight of 12.06 kg. To find out whether this spicy mixture makes for an epic ride, we took it up steep climbs, on long rides, on alpine singletrack, and on the flow trails of Bike Republic Sölden.

The Specialized Epic Expert EVO in detail

Counting the grams wasn’t the priority for Specialized when they specced the Specialized Epic Expert EVO! Goodbye weight weenie, hello trail fun! Compared to the regular Epic models, the travel on the FOX 34 Step-Cast has increased by 20 mm to 120 mm. The firm 100 mm travel at the rear is controlled by the proprietary RockShox Micro Brain shock, developed specifically for the Epic. The Brain 2.0 system on the rear axle opens and closes the compression unit of the shock via an inertia valve, locking out the shock when you pedal, but opening as soon as an obstacle hits the wheel. The sensitivity of the valve and thus the responsiveness of the bike can be adjusted from soft and relatively sensitive to hard and efficient for pedalling.

Fork FOX 34 Performance Step-Cast 120 mm
Shock Custom RockShox Micro Brain 100 mm
Brakes SRAM Level-TL
Drivetrain SRAM GX-Eagle
Seatpost X-Fusion Manic 125 mm
Stem Specialized XC 80 mm
Handlebar Specialized Alloy Mini Rise 750 mm
Wheels Roval Control Carbon
Tires Specialized Ground Control/Fast Trak 29″ x 2,3″
Weight 12.06 kg
Price € 5,599

A 125 mm X-Fusion Manic dropper seat post allows for more freedom of movement on the downhills. The 29 “x 2.3” tires are fitted to lightweight Roval Control carbon rims. For the rear tire of the Epic EVO, puncture protection comes first. The shallow profile of the Fast Trak features Specialized’s tough GRID Enduro casing. Given the higher weight of the build, we would happily have taken on a bit more weight over the SRAM Level TL brakes, for something more powerful.

Very smart
The slim RockShox Micro Brain shock is available exclusively on the Epic. The steel braided hose connecting the shock to the Brain on the rear axle is integrated into the yoke.
Not an option for heavy riders
On long descents, the SRAM Level TL brakes and the small rotors (180/160 mm) quickly reach their limit. Larger rotors or a set of light four-piston brakes would suit the bike better.
Up and down
On Trail bikes, they’ve long become the norm, and more and more Cross Country racers are also discovering the benefits of dropper posts. The dropper on the Epic EVO only has a 125 mm of travel though.
Super fast yet tough
Specialized’s Fast Trak tire on the rear rolls damn fast and the puncture-proof GRID casing is borrowed from their Enduro tires. That’s how we like it!
Not the smartest brain going downhill
The Brain is extremely effective in preventing pedal-bob. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable delay before the shock opens, which made us ride it primarily in the softest setting.
Delicate, but ready to shred

Due to the special arrangement of the carbon fibres in the rear triangle, the seat and chain stays flex enough to be able to dispense with the additional pivot point. This saves a lot of weight, looks sexy and works very well even on rough trails.

The geometry of the Specialized Epic Expert EVO

Size S M L XL
Seat tube 400 mm 434 mm 470 mm 520 mm
Top tube 571 mm 599 mm 626 mm 650 mm
Head tube 95 mm 105 mm 120 mm 140 mm
Head angle 68.5° 68.5° 68.5° 68.5°
Seat angle 73.8° 73.8° 73.8° 73.8°
Chainstays 438 mm 438 mm 438 mm 438 mm
BB Drop 32 mm 32 mm 32 mm 32 mm
Wheelbase 1103 mm 1132 mm 1159 mm 1186 mm
Reach 398 mm 423 mm 446 mm 465 mm
Stack 595 mm 605 mm 619 mm 638 mm
Helmet Specialized Ambush | Glasses 100% Speedcraft | Shirt POC Resistance Mid 3/4 Jersey | Shorts ROCDAY ROC Lite Shorts

The Specialized Epic Expert EVO on the trail

Taking a seat on the Specialized Epic EVO, you immediately feel ready to take on the next stage race. The riding position is somewhat aggressive, as you would expect for a “cross country” bike, but not too extreme. The longer fork and added rise of the 750 mm wide handlebar, means the cockpit sits a bit higher than on a thoroughbred race bike, taking a lot of pressure off your hands. The firmly tuned suspension sits high in its travel and the lack of sag means we never noticed the (on paper) slack seat tube angle in a negative way. Unless it’s in the softest setting, the Brain 2.0 prevents almost any pedal-bob. As a result, the Epic EVO is a damn fast climber and almost as efficient as a hardtail. However, with the Brain in the firmer setting trail chatter gets transferred to the rider almost completely unfiltered. It’s only with larger obstacles that the shock opens to provide traction and comfort at the rear.

While climbing, the Brain is brilliant – there is no pedal-bob on the Epic EVO, turning every watt into propulsion.

Although sprinting to the summit is the prime discipline of “normal” Epics, the heart of the Epic EVO beats for downhills and flowing trails. Along with the bottom bracket, the rider’s centre of gravity is positioned very low on the bike. The frame has enough standover clearance to offer plenty of freedom of movement, but a longer travel dropper post would provide even more space to manoeuvre on the bike. The low centre of gravity coupled with sufficient weight on the front wheel lets you carry a lot of speed through corners and berms. The Epic EVO is easy to air off obstacles on the trail, pump through rollers or manual out of a berm, not least because of its low weight and firm suspension. Here, the Brain even makes sense on the downhills, making for a fun, fast and engaging ride. However, on rougher trails the system reveals a different side. The shock responds to hits with a small delay and while this wasn’t particularly noticeable on big hits like landings or compressions, it did bother us for smaller successive hits, where we expected the suspension to react more sensitively. The delay in the Brain valve opening wasn’t only uncomfortable but also lead to a loss of grip on the rear wheel. In practice, that meant that on natural singletrack we only rode the bike with the Brain in the softest setting. Nevertheless, with its playful handling and well-balanced geometry, the Epic EVO is a lot of fun on technically demanding trails.

Conclusion

The Specialized Epic Expert EVO convinced our test team with the fun and direct handling of a firmly tuned Trail bike. However, with the Brain 2.0 shock system deliberately dispensing with unnecessary comfort, it also has the efficiency of a cross country race bike. Unless you’ve got a realistic chance at winning gold at the Olympics, or at least compete on a national level, the Specialized Epic Expert EVO is a much better choice than a purebred race bike.

For more info head to: specialized.com


This article is from ENDURO issue #037

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Words: Felix Stix Photos: Valentin Rühl

About the author

Felix Stix

My technical background has made me the informal workshop manager of the Enduro Mag. Here I prepare the equipment and check the bikes before they’re handed over to our test crew. My nerdy articles and countless explanations are usually the result of me completely dismantling and reassembling a product…
When I ride my enduro bike I love shredding on the toughest downhill trails where I push myself and the material to the limit - and beyond. And when I have to get back up to the top of the hill I like sitting comfortably on a chair lift or in the back of a truck. However when it comes to my daily commute to the ENDURO headquarters I don’t mind pedalling a few kilometres.